The Maine Civility Initiative is long overdue. The National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona is working with the Maine Development Foundation and the League of Women Voters on this grass-roots initiative, which was created to “revive civility in Maine and three other states,” hoping to “engage 100,000 citizens to learn the skills to improve public and political discourse.”

In today’s dysfunctional, turbulent, and angry political environment, this is a tough challenge. Civility is defined as courtesy and politeness, a polite act or expression. Seems easy enough, you think?

Well, not if it has to start at the top. I think the initiative’s decision to focus on the grass roots — you and me — is wise.

The initiative hopes to host 400 conversations on building civility, engaging those 100,000 people in Arizona, Iowa, Maine and Ohio. The Maine initiative is chaired by Pamela Plumb, a business consultant and former Portland mayor, and Ryan Pelletier, the Aroostook County administrator.

“At a time when our country seems to be growing more divided, restoring civility is an important ingredient to strengthen our communities and grow our economy,” said Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the Maine Development Association. “We look forward to engaging Maine citizens from across the political spectrum to build relationships, find common ground, and strengthen the foundation for our leaders to collaborate to tackle problems impacting our state.”

Count me in, Yellow.


You didn’t really have to alert me to a national poll that found that 75 percent of Americans think incivility has risen to “crisis” levels. All you have to do is read a newspaper or watch the TV news to recognize the horrible place we’re now in. Incivility is defined as a rude or discourteous act. Today’s news stories are full of those.

“Making democracy work means actively pushing back on the increasingly corrosive political rhetoric that we see at every level,” said Jill Ward, president of the League of Women Voters of Maine. “Our partnership … seeks to restore civil, respectful, informed discourse so that every Maine citizen can participate in our political system.” Good luck with that, Jill.

I was pleased to note that our former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe is on the National Advisory Board of the National Institute of Civil Discourse. Snowe is a good example of the wonderful and civil political process we once enjoyed in Washington, D.C., and Maine.

I have been surprised that our political leaders, including here in Maine, don’t understand that they can accomplish a lot more by being civil to each other. In the good old days, when I started hanging out at the State House, the Senate would adjourn and we’d go into the Senate president’s office, where he had a bar, and have a drink, and then go out to dinner together.

Legislators got to know each other and become friends. That didn’t mean they didn’t disagree on issues, but you can always work out those disagreements when you are friends. Today’s legislators don’t even know each other. Term limits have been especially harmful.

And it has astonished me that our governor has not figured out that his angry words have prevented him from achieving much of his agenda.


I’ve got a suggestion for the Maine Civility Initiative. Let’s focus on the 2018 governor’s race, which has attracted many candidates, and all join in a pledge to vote only for candidates who are civil to each other and all of us.

Launch a nasty attack, and you’re off our list for a potential vote. We can do the same thing for legislative and congressional candidates.

I loved the comment of Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. She said, “In this age of polarization, it’s time for every American to relearn the importance of being able to disagree without being disagreeable.” That is so true.

She also noted that, “Our democracy depends on our ability to peaceably debate our differences and find common ground to address challenges our communities face.” Also true.

And yes, I understand that my approach might result in having no candidates to vote for, but let’s start out being hopeful that there are some people running for office who want to be civil and positive, to focus on bringing us together rather than dividing us, and to speak no evil.

I urge you to engage in this civility initiative, and to start tracking the comments of these candidates, to whittle the list down to leaders we can be proud to support.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or Read more of Smith’s writings at

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